The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has been letting patients grade their hospital experiences, and those "patient experience scores" may give some insight into a hospital's health outcomes, a new study suggests.
Some people have been concerned that patient experience isn't the most important factor to measure, said coauthor Dr. Ashish K. Jha, of the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston.
"Medicare has been putting a lot of data out for a long time, but the broad consensus has been it's very hard for consumers to use this info," Jha told Reuters Health by phone. "CMS responded by giving out star ratings that consumers can understand easily."
The five-star rating system is based on patients' answers to 27 questions about a recent hospital stay. Questions cover communication with nurses and doctors, the responsiveness of hospital staff, the hospital's cleanliness and quietness, pain management, communication about medicines, discharge
information, and would they recommend the hospital.
The survey is administered to a random sample of adult patients between 48 hours and six weeks after hospital discharge. Consumers can compare their local hospitals online.
For the new study, the researchers compared the CMS patient-experience ratings at more than 3,000 hospitals in October 2015 to data from those hospitals on death or readmission within 30 days of discharge.
Patients in the study had been hospitalized for myocardial infarction, pneumonia or heart failure.
Of the 3,000 hospitals, 125 had five stars, more than 2,000 had three or four stars, 623 had two stars, and 76 had only one star.
Four and five-star hospitals tended to be small rural nonteaching hospitals in the Midwest.
Five-star hospitals had the lowest average patient death rate, 9.8 percent over the 30 days following discharge, while four three and two-star hospitals all had just over 10 percent mortality rates and one-star hospitals had an average 11.2 percent mortality rate, as reported in a research letter online April 10 in JAMA Internal Medicine.
Five-star hospitals also readmitted less than 20 percent of patients over the next month, while other hospitals all readmitted at least that many.
The data only included Medicare patients, who are older andmay not have the same results as younger patients, and there was not much difference between two, three and four-star hospitals, the authors note.
"If you use the star rating you're more likely to end up at a high quality hospital," Jha said. "But I wouldn't use only the star rating to choose a hospital."
"I don't think these data are enough to by themselves to suggest that (patients) should use the star rating as a single guide to choose an institution," agreed Dr. Joshua J. Fenton of the University of California, Davis, who was not part of the new study.
No large hospitals had five stars, and more than half of the five-star facilities didn't have an intensive care unit, Fenton told Reuters Health by phone.
"I can say from practicing in a rural hospital for a few years and we did not have an ICU, when we hospitalized someone with pneumonia or congestive heart failure, we would certainly not have kept them there if we thought it was likely there would be a complication," he said.
Smaller rural hospitals "select" less acute patients, he said. The authors of the new study tried to account for that, but it may still have affected the results.